Winchester Cathedral

 

11th May 2019
Conductor: John Sutton
Rossini: Stabat Mater
Puccini: Messa di Gloria

Once again, three Hampshire choirs – Botley Choral Society, Compton and Shawford Festival Choir and the Twyford Singers – having rehearsed separately with their respective conductors – have worked their magic when united to perform one evening concert. This is in itself a great achievement of all the conductors, Derek Beck and David Burgess, and especially John Sutton who directed the performance itself.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and Rossini’s Stabat Mater are passionate, dramatic expressions of aspects of the Christian faith by operatic composers drawn to extrovert and intense styles. These make heavy demands on singers and orchestra alike. In the Kyrie of Puccini’s Mass, both showed this very well in the strong contrasts between controlled quiet intensity and louder outbursts of prayer. The ringing tone of the tenor soloist, Alexander James Edwards, carried wonderfully down the nave, not only in the solos but over the full orchestra and choir. The choir also worked on bringing out the subject entries in the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ to good effect, and the coda was powerfully brought out. The sombre but firm ‘Crucifixus’, sung by the basses of the chorus, contrasted well with the brighter ‘Et resurrexit’ from the full choir.

The opening of Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater’, with its tense, diminished-seventh arpeggios, establishes the atmosphere of Jesus’ mother’s intense emotion at the foot of the Cross. The orchestra conveyed this very effectively, with the following agitated strings and alternating solo and chorus sections. The well-known ‘cujus animam’ gave us another chance to hear Alexander James Edwards’ powerful tenor. We also heard some good, and demanding, duet work from Phillipa Boyle (the soprano, who replaced Helen Bailey, due to illness, at very short notice), and Fiona Mackay (alto), as well as from the quartet of soloists.

As always, the Winchester Music Festival orchestra deserve special thanks for their discipline, expression and precision, which was especially clear in the wind and brass sections. The orchestra gave strong support to the performance throughout.

Geoffrey Bennetts

 An extract from Fiona Smith the wife of our WCMF President Julian who died earlier this year. 

It meant so much to me to sit with you at the really wonderful WCMF concert in the Cathedral last night. I was touched beyond measure, and honoured, that you and John Sutton had thought of dedicating it to Julian. I’m sure he was revelling in the performances – such glorious music – and the combined Choirs were superb – one of the very best I’ve ever heard from them – such athletic sopranos – and all so alert to John’s direction………wonderful pianissimos and electrifying fortissimos – and I could hear the words.

 

 

Romsey Abbey

 

18th May 2019
Conductor: Graham Kidd
Britten – St Nicolas
Vivaldi – Beatus Vir
Vivaldi – Magnificat

A crowded Abbey savoured an exciting and varied programme at this year’s Winchester and County Music Festival. Romsey Abbey provided an atmospheric setting for this concert bringing together four local choirs, the Itchen Valley Choir, Overton Choral Society, Sarisbury Choral Society, and the Winchester City Festival Choir. The staging accommodated an amazing 150 voices which delivered both an exciting and powerful impact when required whilst retaining a crisp and bright performance of the first half baroque repertoire.

The concert opened with two works by Vivaldi, “Beatus Vir” and “Magnificat”. With such a large choral ensemble it would have been easy to have lost the character of these works, but much praise must be extended to musical director Graham Kidd and his choir who crafted precise, crisp singing bringing these works to life and keeping an impressive balance between orchestra, soloist and choir. The orchestral accompaniment sparkled in the interaction with choirs and our soloists, Hilary Cronin, Felicity Turner and Tom Robson’s performances were very special indeed, a particular highlight being “Esurientes” which was absolutely exquisite. The work closes with an exciting and challenging double fugue, “Gloria Patri”, which certainly made the choir work hard although it was very evident how much they enjoyed performing it and how much an engaged and enthusiastic audience appreciated their achievement.

The highlight of the evening still awaited us. Whilst the first half focused upon the exciting formulaic Vivaldi, the second half was a total contrast in an exuberant and highly entertaining rendition of Britten’s Saint Nicolas. Robson was magnificent in his role of St. Nicolas, bringing intensity through dramatic power, gentle sensitivity in the closing Nunc Dimittis and pure clarity of tone throughout. This is an exciting work and the performers delivered a most colourful performance, the storm and the “pickled boys” being particularly notable. The choir of St. Ann’s Catholic School in Southampton were stunning in their performance from a hidden location behind the massed choirs. They were tuneful with clear diction and it was clear they very much enjoyed their contribution.

This performance was a real thrill and even the audience participation in the two hymns added to the sense of occasion. Congratulations to all involved, for the ambition in tackling such a work and the dazzling performance under the amazing talents of the evening’s musical director Graham Kidd.

Adrian Taylor
Romsey Organist